No Place Like Home for the Holidays

We are so excited to share a guest post today from our friend and clinical psychologist, Brent Bounds! Make him feel welcome on The Perch today!

If you haven’t noticed, this is the time of year where money is made on sentiment and nostalgia. Commercials and advertisements depict loving family reunions with laughter and affection surrounding a perfectly set dining room table.  Children expressing absolute glee when they discover they got the gift they always wanted.  

And of course, there’s the classic, all-time tear-jerker when the college student stealthily walks in the front door and makes coffee to wake up and surprise his family.  Thank you, Folgers.  While many people resonate with these experiences of the holidays, most likely a greater number do not.  Their holiday commercial would look more like a Bravo reality show.  Christmas does not represent a time of peace and harmony for them, but a season to be endured.  As a leader/mentor, you have students who will be going home to navigate some difficult family relationships this holiday season.  Here are a few brief tips to empower and support them:

Listen  

Always a great place to start. Encourage your students to tell their story.  What about the time with their family are they looking forward to and what are they apprehensive about?  What are some of their expectations for the holiday?  Many times we don’t know we have expectations until they are not met….and we find ourselves hurt, frustrated and disappointed.  Help your students articulate their expectations of their break, their family and themselves.

Develop a plan

Take some time to help the student put a plan in place for if/when things get hard.  Help them anticipate what kind of situations might present during their time with their family and outline ways they can cope, take care of themselves and get through the difficult time.  It’s always best of have some sort of preemptive plan rather than trying to figure it out during a moment of intense emotion. Having a plan in place can help the student feel safer as they go into the time with their family.  

Offer a life-line 

Sometimes just knowing that they have an “out” or someone to turn to if life gets bad is enough to help students face the challenges ahead of them.  Offer a daily text check-in where the student can simply text a emoticon of “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to let you know how things are going.  This maintains a sense of connection and gives the student a reminder of relationships outside their family that are healthy and supportive. 

Influence vs. Definition 

Remind students that while a difficult or broken family system does have significant influence on them, it does not have to define them.  We are shaped by our families of origin and it is easy to get caught up in the patterns of an unhealthy family system.  However, the brokenness of one’s family is not a life-sentence.  Remind students that they are more than their family and they have the ability to change the cycle or current of dysfunctional family patterns.  

Never minimize the influence you have as a leader in the life of your students.  Just knowing you are in their corner, that you are thinking of them and praying for them, can empower them to face some potentially difficult situations at home this Christmas.  - Brent Bounds, Ph.D.


Brent Bounds is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York City, where he works with individuals, couples and families.  He also consults with and teaches marriage and parenting courses at Redeemer Presbyterian Church.  He holds degrees from Wheaton College, Dallas Theological Seminary and Fordham University.  Brent and his wife, Jenni, have three boys and love raising their family in New York City.

For more information about Brent visit his website at www.brentboundsphd.com